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  Vol. 13, No 3, 2005
Always Looking on the Bright Side

A famous television celebrity exudes boundless optimism

Jonė Kalnaitytė

The country loves her, from old women, to influential businesspeople, to city teenagers with alternative views on life. Her charming smile has graced the covers of magazines. Old-age pensioners discuss the details of her life, and the entertainment industry is still rejoicing at its discovery of her.

Her name has not only provided the title to a television programme, it has also acquired an unofficial everyday meaning: “Kindly like Nomeda.” “Sensitive like Nomeda.” “Merry like Nomeda.”

So when, at the end of last year, the Woman of the Year was announced, few were surprised when the title went to Nomeda Marčėnaitė, 40, an artist and chat show hostess. She won the title for her charity work in encouraging people to support children in orphanages, which received a huge response.

Warts and all

There is probably no other popular programme in Lithuania which is watched by so many viewers of various ages and from such different social backgrounds as “Nomeda”. This talk show, which goes out every weekday evening and is repeated the next morning, tackles the most varied subjects. They have included misunderstandings between parents and their children, the infidelity of spouses, being overweight, bizarre hobbies, the likes and inclinations in the sex lives of the elderly, prostitution, or adapting to life outside after a spell in prison.

There is no subject she does not dare to discuss. She says that there are no vulgar or over-the-top themes. It is only their presentation which can be inappropriate. She never hides her opinions, and is not afraid to show publicly her feelings or her views, or to talk about situations in her own life.

“I do it constantly. It sometimes seems there’s no chatterbox like me. I’m an open person. I don’t have anything to hide when I’m talking about myself and other people aren’t involved.

“My openness doesn’t make me shallow, and I don’t sacrifice my individuality. If you’re afraid of losing your identity, then it’s better not to interact at all.”

Nomeda thus enunciates her position. She emphasises that it is much more important that a person who sees the vices of the world and the weaknesses of other people does not get angry.

Many people were astonished when the mother of three, who had no experience of journalism or television, was invited to present the programme. It was even stranger that this creative and productive artist accepted the offer, and embarked on it so intensely.

“The first days, I would come home from work late, totally exhausted, and all I wanted to do was to sleep. At first, the offer to host the programme seemed like an adventure, but now it has become my favourite occupation.
“When people look me in the eye and say: ‘Nomeda, we love you,’ I feel very happy.”

Often participants in her shows approach her and tell her about changes in their lives.

“I think that a television programme cannot change a person’s fate. It might give the impetus towards some step or act, or help towards a better understanding of the self, or force people to accept change. Which is, probably, not at all bad.”

When her picture began to appear in the press, she put one strict demand on the photographers and stylists. She challenged the cult of youth that is dominating society today by not allowing them to remove her wrinkles. In all the pictures, her face appears with the marks left by time and emotion, including the crow’s feet. She never hides her age, neither in interviews nor in photography sessions.

When her husband Marius once saw Nomeda’s retouched picture, he did not like it: “This is not you.”

Always and everywhere, in life, on screen and in pictures, Nomeda wants to be herself. Television for her is another opportunity to do that. It is yet another adventure in her life.

Feet in clay

Journalists joke that clay is the secret to Nomeda’s beauty. To be more precise, her ceramics, for which she manages to find some time, even now.

“I cannot live without art. When I am creating my pieces, I experience a spiritual comfort, which I call beauty treatment.”

Another thing she cannot imagine her life without is her family and her home. She says that her husband Marius Jonutis, also an artist, with whom she has lived for 12 years, is the joy of her life.

“I love him more and more. He gets more important and interesting to me: so special, and the only one.”
Nomeda and Marius have been organising joint exhibitions of their work since 1990. There have been over 30 during these 15 years, and the works seem to merge into a single whole. Wooden reliefs painted in soft, bright colours, openwork sculptures, ceramic or wood panels, bright bowls or other objects: it seems it does not matter whether they were made by him or by her.

They are an integrated whole, recognisable at any exhibition or interior. Their work asserts that life is wonderful, that the sun is always shining, the grass is always green, diseases and disasters never strike, that there is only love and joy, that nobody is ever lonely, and children play with animals.

Such an idyll exists in the artists’ house outside Vilnius, which resembles a fairy-tale cottage more than a family house. There is a pink gate carved in trees and flowers, window panes painted in merry pictures, their multicoloured tile stove, a sink covered in flowers, wooden birds on a real bird table outside, and thousands of hanging, standing or lying interior details that the artists have created or decorated.

Here, not only Marius but also her 18-year-old son Dovas, and Titas and Ula, both six, await Nomeda’s return from the television studio. They are the people who have painted Nomeda’s life in the brightest and merriest colours.

Work with orphans

When in the autumn of 2003, Nomeda was considering whether to take on another responsibility and take part in charity work, Marius, whom she asked for advice, said: “Of course! And now let us hug each other and say farewell until the New Year.”

Nomeda admits that organising the work took up all her time and energy. Visiting children’s homes was a drain on the emotions. Television reports in which the tearful presenter embraced abandoned toddlers touched many hearts.

“There was a time when I stopped sleeping: too many emotions, too much feeling. I would lie down, and the faces of the children would appear before me, one after the other. I would think of how I could help them, what I could say to donors.”

The aid attracted a lot of attention. People donated by transferring money to a special bank account, by purchasing goods marked with a special symbol, by sending money via SMS, or by going to children’s homes. All layers of society responded, from schoolchildren and retired people to large companies and banks.

Something happened that the initiator of the action had not expected. The Factum record agency declared the TV3 programme the largest-ever humanitarian aid project in the country.

Over a million litas was collected. It was distributed among 58 children’s homes across Lithuania, where over 4,000 abandoned or neglected children live.

Half a year later, Nomeda found out that it would continue into the following year.

“It was the best news for me that year,” she recalls. “I’m happy that acts of generosity like this educate young people, too. Teenagers come on my show and ask me what they can do. Last year, children knitted little booties and hats for babies, and made dresses for girls.

“I have always believed that people are moved by suffering. We just do not have the time to show it. To me, this charity work was the miracle of the year.”

One thing we have not mentioned is that Nomeda started visiting a children’s home in Vilnius much earlier, before she ever became a television presenter.

And one day, having filled in a batch of forms, Marius and Nomeda took home a six-month-old girl called Ula.

Married bliss

Six years ago, when Ula appeared in their family, nobody organised aid for children’s homes. The adoption of a baby was not an everyday event, either. The couple already had Nomeda’s son from a previous marriage, and their little son Titas.

“We were living very well, we loved each other; yet I would be overcome by anxiety. My body lacked one particle that would have made me absolutely happy. When Ula appeared, it looked as if a miracle had happened. When I started looking after her, I experienced absolute comfort and wholeness.”

In Lithuania, adoption is usually enveloped in a veil of secrecy, in order to protect the child’s interests. Making Ula’s adoption public was Nomeda and Marius’ second challenge to society. They did not hide, even from Ula, the fact of her adoption.

Nomeda is convinced that they behaved in the right way. Ula herself has confirmed this on a number of occasions, by saying: “Let’s adopt another child.”

Nomeda is happy that modern children and teenagers are capable of thinking differently from the generation that grew up in Soviet times. Accepting in their family a child from a children’s home is no longer a problem for them.

“In Lithuania, if you can have children yourself, adoption raises many eyebrows and is treated like a strange act. I think it’s nothing special. You take one child who is a miracle, and you feel you are rewarded yourself. Ula was the ultimate chord in my spirit. Since then, my life has been getting only better.”

She admits that she has no more dreams in her life. All her dreams have come true.

“Yes, I keep thinking all the time, I’m too happy. I do what I want to do, and I live with the man who is the only one in the world.

“We just have to remember and keep reminding each other that we live in the most beautiful place in the whole world, that our homes are the best, our friends the cleverest, our children the most adorable, and our relations with others are good. I can see a multitude of good things around me. I cannot and do not want to have anything else.”

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Akreta UAB
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